Bangkok is a big, crazy, polluted city, so what better way to see it than to get right in the middle of things and take a ride in a tuk-tuk? It is certainly a unique experience.
Being aware that I would struggle to communicate clearly I was wary of accepting inexpensive tours of the city from tuk-tuk drivers, anticipating a time-wasting tour of dodgy commission-earning jewellery haunts, rather than the places I actually wanted to see. So when I got talking to a tour guide outside Wat Pho and he hailed a passing tuk-tuk and told me the driver would take me to the places he had just told me about I hesitated. The tour guide saw my concern and reassured me the driver had agreed to go to the places mentioned.
I clambered into the carriage seat that was essentially just fixed on the back of a moped and hoped for the best. You have to trust strangers sometimes when you are travelling, and I hoped that my gut instinct that this would not end terribly, was right.
|Mr tuk-tuk, Bangkok, Thailand.|
The traffic and pollution
The first few minutes of the ride were spent stuck in nose-to-tail traffic and I took the time to familiarise myself with being so close to other vehicles and the vulnerable feeling you have when exposed in such a way to the metal and the noise that is city traffic.
As Mr tuk-tuk nipped across a junction we managed to pick up some speed and I felt a welcome breeze float over my arms, whether it was fresh air or vehicle fumes was debatable. We zipped across large junctions and along narrow streets, passing street stalls, children playing and monks in orange robes and made our way between two temples.
Then we came to a stop near what looked like a large jewellery shop and my heart sank. My tuk-tuk driver had been good so far so I cast my cynicism to one side and went inside. The air-conditioning was welcome but I was not in the market for the cabinets full of sparkly things. When, after mere moments, I returned Mr tuk-tuk seemed dismayed that I had not bought anything.
Having seen the temples the tour guide had told me about I asked Mr tuk-tuk to take me to Khao San Road where I was staying. He nodded and we headed off again. It was only when I noticed we were not taking any of the turns sign-posted to Banglamphu (the area Khao San Road is in) that alarm bells started ringing in my head. I asked Mr tuk-tuk where we were going and he responded “more shopping”. Clearly undeterred by the fact that I had earned him no commission in the jewellery shop he was determined to get more than simply the agreed tuk-tuk fare from me. Very firmly I told him that I did not want to go shopping, and asked him again to take me to my hotel. When he continued to insistently argue “shopping” I asked him to stop the tuk-tuk and I got out. I paid him the fare we had agreed, even though I had no idea where I was, and I was certainly not where he had agreed to take me. He got very shirty and drove off.
|Tuk-tuks in Bangkok, Thailand.|
I hailed a metered taxi and got back to my accommodation, eventually, feeling very disappointed with Mr tuk-tuk. I can understand the temptation to see tourists as walking moneybags and, at the end of the day, I made it safely back to my accommodation and that is the most important thing, but I had wanted my tuk-tuk ride to be a positive experience and I felt betrayed after placing my trust in Mr tuk-tuk. I had been happy to pay the agreed fare and would have given him a tip as well, had he fulfilled his part of the bargain. I am a fairly experienced traveller and was not particularly phased about being dumped on a pavement in an unknown area of Bangkok, but many people would find the experience very stressful.
A tuk-tuk ride is part of the Bangkok experience. I was unlucky that my driver got greedy, but don’t assume they are all like that. Tuk-tuks are not much cheaper than metered taxis, offer no protection from the city’s pollution and I would hate to think what might happen in the case of a collision, however their novelty value makes them appeal to visitors and a trip in a tuk-tuk can certainly satisfy if you are looking for a hair-raising experience.
What experiences have you had with tuk-tuks?